Fracking bill on the move

February 10, 2017 GMT

State Rep. John Meadows is tweaking his proposed fracking bill to incorporate suggestions from energy companies — but the Calhoun Republican said Thursday he intends to ensure Northwest Georgia water is protected.

Fracking — hydraulic fracturing — involves injecting liquid at high pressures into underground rocks to force open fissures and extract natural gas or oil.

Meadows said he expects another subcommittee hearing on his bill early next week, after he incorporates some changes sought by industry representatives.

"I’m not going to make all the changes they want," he said. "But I told them they could have as much input as they want as long as their focus is getting their product without harming the resources of the state of Georgia."

House Bill 205 would set up regulations for modern methods of exploration and drilling. The current law hasn’t been updated since the 1970s and, unlike other environmental permit applications, public notice isn’t required.

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"I’m a fan of trying to get us independent from the other side of the world on oil and gas, so I’m not opposed to fracking," Meadows said. "But where the water is running fairly clean and is abundant, that’s where (natural gas) is in Georgia. And right now we don’t have any rules."

‘Sitting on a reservoir’

Nine counties in Northwest Georgia hold most of the potential reserves, which is why state Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she signed on to the bill as a co-sponsor. So did Reps. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, and Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville.

"To me it’s not about making fracking more difficult, but to make sure its done with the least harmful side effects to the other people living in the community," Coomer said.

Lumsden said the measure would bring a welcome element of local control.

It would require cities and counties to be notified and codify their ability to restrict drilling activity through zoning or other ordinances.

"We sit on top of a reservoir of natural gas. It’s pretty deep, but it can be tapped," Lumsden said. "This provides some environmental protections and lets local counties decide if they want it to take place."

Coosa River Basin Initiative was among the first groups to call for better oversight and spokesman Joe Cook said they’re encouraged that Meadows — who chairs the powerful House Rules Committee — has taken the lead.

"Chairman Meadows is not going to take on a project unless it’s been vetted. He’s well-respected at the Capitol and his views carry a lot of weight," Cook said.

He said the measure aims to strike a balance between the right of a property owner to drill and the protection of drinking water and the property of nearby landowners.

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Meadows said there have only been three permit requests in the past decade, and none of them have borne fruit. But the market for natural gas could change and he wants the state to be prepared.

"Somebody lucky enough to have it on their property, it could be a good income source for them — and their communities — if it’s done right," he said.

Resolutions of support for the bill were passed last year by Floyd County, Cave Spring, Rome, Gordon County, Calhoun, Chickamauga, Ringgold, Lyerly, Cedar town and Chatsworth.